News & Media Opinion Pieces Commentary on the second part of the IPCC Report on Climate Change

Commentary on the second part of the IPCC Report on Climate Change

by David Shearman

My January news letter was devoted to the first part of the IPCC report which dealt with the science of climatic change and its certainty. The second part of the IPCC report, just published, describes the existing and predicted effects of climate change on the life support systems of humans and other species. The specific human heath aspects are described

The report is a shocker. A badly needed outcome of the report is US recognition of the problem. To date the US press has been defensive and skeptical. However the latest findings are reported in detail e.g. New York Times April 6 ­

 “From the poles to the tropics, the earth’s climate and ecosystems are already being shaped by the atmospheric buildup of greenhouse gases and face inevitable, possibly profound, alteration, the world’s leading scientific panel on climate change said Friday.

In its most detailed portrait of the effects of climate change driven by human activities, the panel predicted widening droughts in southern Europe and the Middle East, sub-Saharan Africa, the American Southwest and Mexico, and flooding that could imperil low-lying islands and the crowded river deltas of southern Asia. It stressed that many of the regions facing the greatest risks were among the worlds poorest”.

The US press also describes in detail the success of some governments in watering down the scientific conclusions of the IPCC report. Implicated were the US, China and Saudi Arabia. The IPCC findings are uncomfortable for these governments which want to maintain a business as usual economic policy

 It seems likely that failure to address climate change will result from the malfunction of our governance systems. We can see this by reading the words of our leaders.

In an article posted in February, http://www.dea.org.au/node/83 we looked at the US Supreme Court’s impending judgment on vehicular emissions. Recently this land mark case went 5 to 4 in favour of carbon dioxide being a pollutant and indicating that the Environmental protection authority has an obligation to act under the Clean Air Act. On April 3 President Bush said that took “very seriously” the Supreme Court’s ruling that the Environmental Protection Agency must regulate greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles as pollution. But he attached two conditions that appeared likely to retard EPA regulation of carbon dioxide and other gases that trap heat at the Earth’s surface: He said any regulatory program should not slow economic growth, nor should its benefits to the atmosphere be offset by mounting emissions from China, India and other growing economies. (Los Angeles Times 4 April 2007)

 In Australia, Mr Howard espouses the same philosophy. An interview on ABC AM – Thursday, 29 March was as follows

CHRIS UHLMANN: If we could look at what happens here though Prime Minister, should Australia have a target for reducing carbon emissions?
JOHN HOWARD: Well we have to be very careful in setting targets that we don’t do greater damage to our economy and our lifestyle than will be done by other things.

Again on ABC PM – Friday, 13 April John Howard said: “I put jobs and economic prosperity in relation to climate change ahead of everything else. Jobs and economic prosperity is more important than ideology and particular targets”

Our leaders are locked into the 20th century paradigm, a state of schizophrenia that allows the proponent to support two opposing strategies. In SA the Roxby expansion is a given. From the moment a large mineral source was discovered its mining was assured and the consequences would be “managed”. In SA the Rann government has made great play of its greenhouse credentials. Yet suddenly its resolve to set targets is seemingly inexplicable. According to the latest authoritative Australian Greenhouse Office figures, South Australia was actually below 1990 levels by 2004, so the government’s alternative target to meet 1990 levels by 2020 will mean an increase, not a decrease, in our greenhouse emissions over the next 13 years. The reason for this failure — Roxby, which will probably double greenhouse emissions in SA.

By contrast 21st century thinking will have to ask if we need this pot of gold. If the answer is yes then its production will have to be greenhouse neutral and this cost will be part of the product. Most importantly 21st century thinking will recognize that the economy may not exist unless climate change is addressed urgently. The assumption that we can change to a carbon free economy so as to continue growth to infinity is naive

What is the cause of leadership schizophrenia? Quite simply conflict of interest. The primacy of re-election and the maintenance of power needs the dispensation of cake to the masses. Until this nexus is broken one has to be skeptical that democracy in its present form can address this crisis. If one extrapolates this situation to the international scene we find a collection of leaders each averse to any measure that will harm their national economy The Washington Post Sunday, April 8, 2007, sums up the situation this way ” Getting disparate world governments to agree is like herding cats. Getting disparate world governments to agree on the effects of climate change is like teaching cats to sit, shake hands and roll over”.

Unfortunately cats will continue to demonstrate their liberty and self preservation. Present evidence suggests that we will go along with their ways although we know they kill birds.

The views in this article do not necessarily represent those of DEA